The history of cocoa and chocolate goes back almost 4000 years
and can be traced back to the ancient Olmec, Mayan and Aztec civilisations in Central America.
Long long ago in a faraway land the precious twin, god of wind, wisdom, fertility and creation Quetzalcoatl descended from the heavens and in doing so conjoined the heavens to the earth. He was part human, part bird, part snake he had a long face, pale complexion and colourful feathers.
He taught his followers science, art and brought with him a valuable gift stolen from his bother gods, the divine fruit cocoa telling us that it can relieve fatigue and provide a pleasurable rest.
Cocoa has always played an important role as a currency in the Mayan and Aztec cultures.
There are few foodstuffs with such a rich and intriguing history as cocoa and chocolate. Just like coffee and so many other foods, we inherited the cocoa bean from the pre-Columbian cultures in Latin America.
‘Theobroma cacao’, meaning ‘food of the gods’, was prized for centuries by the Central American Indians, who first enjoyed this spicy drink called ‘xocolatl
Bitter Water. Mayan chocolate was different than the chocolate we enjoy today. It was a liquid made from crushed cocoa beans, chili peppers, and water. (There was no sugar yet in Central America.) They poured the liquid from one cup to another to create a frothy foam on top.
The Aztecs introduced cocoa to the Spaniards, who took it back to Europe in the 16th century. it was very expensive, so only the rich could afford it. Chocolate was only for drinking until the early Victorian times when a technique for making solid ‘eating’ chocolate was devised by Fry’s in Bristol.
Throughout its history, whether as a cocoa drinking chocolate or confectionery treat, chocolate has always been much sought after and traded globaly. Modern chocolate manufacturing allows more people to buy chocolate. The flavour of chocolate differs depending on the ingredients used and how it is prepared.
Real chocolate is made from cocoa and its ingredients include cocoa butter (an expensive part of the cocoa bean) and, some confectionery companies add, up to 5% vegetable fat to save money.
Cocoa powder and chocolate are made from the dried seeds that are found in pods on the cacao tree. Chocolate production is a complex process that begins with the harvesting of cocoa trees.
When Hernando Cortés first imported cocoa to Europe, and when he learned how to make the chocolate drink with it, it caused quite a stir: divine to some, heretical to others.
Even today, cocoa and chocolate still exude an aura of mystery, luxury and pleasure.
A little history may help us to understand why.